Our starting point is that our economy needs to change. In our discussion paper ‘An Economy for All’ we suggest four guiding principles which should underpin an urgently needed rethinking of our economy:

  1. The well-being and collective prosperity of people across Scotland must be the end goal of our economy;
  2. All work must be properly valued, decently paid and secure;
  3. The value of people’s voluntary and unpaid contributions to economy and society must be recognised;
  4. The economy is a part of our environment and we must use our economy to enhance, not destroy, our environment.

These principles broadly encompass the biggest issues that the third sector comes up against time and again in our work as we support vulnerable people, communities and our environment. How we develop the labour market and our approach to employment and employability therefore reflects how much we value our fellow citizens.

Whilst clearly articulating the range of challenges we face in relation to employment and inequality, the motion misses a number of key points which arise from these principles. These points also need to feature more prominently in policy, legislation and conversations which are meant to address the specific challenges the motion addresses.

More than Employment

The Fair Work debate and convention and other key conversations (e.g. Fairer and Healthier Scotland) are welcome responses to the challenges outlined in this motion. They need to be better connected, and they must better reflect the reality of people’s day to day lives, and our changing demography.

For example, many in our society carry out valuable work for no pay, including third sector volunteers and those who are carers[i]. These roles are vital to society and the economy and yet are not well supported; for example, the current Carers (Scotland) Bill seems weak on supporting carers to achieve their own goals and to remain in work[ii].

We also have a changing population; more people will take up caring roles and some people with ill health or disability may not be able to take up paid work. Is their value to society any less because of that?

This motion misses these points completely; government debates which are meant to identify how we collectively tackle inequality and poverty miss these points too.

In our recent discussion paper on employability and social justice we argue that:

“….our economy is characterised by underemployment and low skills utilisation, with inequalities faced by women, older people, disabled people and those from low income communities.

The failure of the current approach, our changing demographic patterns and our politically advantageous times mean we need to be bold. At the heart of this must be a re-framing that focuses our attention on people’s contribution to society rather than solely the ultimate goal of employment. We must also recognise that an individual’s form of contribution, or employability needs, may change over time.

While most people’s primary contribution is likely to be through employment, many will also continue to contribute in other important ways. Volunteering, community activism, ….care and good neighbourliness are all of significant value to our society. They too deserve support and recognition.”

Politically, Scotland is in the perfect policy environment within which to re-think, re-design and re-create an improved offer to support people to get involved in society. New powers over social security and employment programmes are on the table alongside an energised population post-referendum, and a confident and respected parliament and government.

We now have national conversations on social justice, employability and fair work, and further devolution, there is now a significant opportunity to improve the employability landscape in its broadest sense. It is also the perfect opportunity to break away from current practice, which focuses on pipelines and state-commissioned approaches to drive people into work

Work Programme/Devolution of Employment Powers

The third sector has consistently criticised the limited transfer of powers linked to the relevant clauses within the Scotland Bill. This is a feature of the evidence submitted to the Welfare Reform Committee’s inquiry into the future of social security delivery.

Nevertheless, there is a chance to rethink how we approach and deliver employability support. The record of the Work Programme is such that direct replication, delivered via local authorities, would not be supported by many within the sector.

We remain concerned at the call for devolution directly to local authorities, before Scotland and all interested parties – including the Scottish Parliament – have had a strong debate about how we use the powers to be transferred[iii].

The third sector welcomes the focus on the concept of good work, most recently laid out by the Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work at a meeting of the Third Sector Employability Forum. That “good work” and not “work first” is viewed to be the outcome of employability support is very welcome – but governments at all levels can take the lead in demonstrating what good work looks like and in offering opportunities to key groups who face significant challenges in securing or sustaining employment.

Tackling Gender Inequality

There is a significant gender element in all of the issues raised above; policy decisions around employment and public service cuts can push women in to caring roles and increased reliance on benefits; yet, investment in social care, holistic work-place support and flexible working could help women to retain employment or get back into work, and better support (and value) their unpaid contributions.

Work by Engender[iv] shows that:

  • Women have fewer financial assets and less access to occupational pensions than men and there are considerably more women than men in the lowest income decile;
  • 92% of lone parents are women;
  • Women are at least 59% of unpaid carers in Scotland, and women are twice as likely to give up paid work in order to care than men are
  • The e gender pay gap in Scotland, which is 12% for full-time work and 32% for part-time work, signifies persistent and widespread differences in women’s experience of the labour market.

These issues can be addressed by positive devolved policy choices; for example, supporting equal access to work for each gender, promoting flexible working, and providing extensive, flexible, child-care.

Policy responses to underemployment, poor pay, part time working and how we take forward newly devolved powers in relation to employment and social security must have a clear focus on women, their experiences and the specific inequalities which underpin their daily lives.


[i] Carers Legislation – Consultation on Proposals – January 2014, Scottish Government (2014), p2.

[ii] Independent and Scottish Green Party Debate: An End to In-work Poverty – SCVO briefing

[iii] SCVO response to Devolution Committee Inquiry into Scotland Bill.

[iv] A Widening Gap: Women and Welfare Reform, Engender (2015).


Lynn Williams

Policy Officer

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations,

Mansfield Traquair Centre,

15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB


Tel: 0141 559 5036


About us

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the third sector. There are over 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 138,000 paid staff and approximately 1.3 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £4.9 billion.

SCVO works in partnership with the third sector in Scotland to advance our shared values and interests. We have over 1,600 members who range from individuals and grassroots groups, to Scotland-wide organisations and intermediary bodies.

As the only inclusive representative umbrella organisation for the sector SCVO:

  • has the largest Scotland-wide membership from the sector – our 1,600 members include charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes
  • our governance and membership structures are democratic and accountable – with an elected board and policy committee from the sector, we are managed by the sector, for the sector
  • brings together organisations and networks connecting across the whole of Scotland

SCVO works to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change.

Further details about SCVO can be found at